David Irving


Africa and Stalingrad

Hitler believed he had good reason to face the coming winter with optimism.  The railway transport crisis had been overcome.  The harvest throughout occupied Europe was better than expected.  Albert Speer was harnessing Germany’s latent industrial might to mass-produce tanks and guns.  Under Field Marshal Milch the Luftwaffe’s production lines were being reorganized.  The Atlantic coast was being fortified.  The navy was in Norway ;  the submarines were blocking the Allied convoy routes in the Arctic.  The Reich’s domains extended farther than ever before in history.

On October 1, 1942, Field Marshal Rommel—amiable and reserved—visited Hitler at the Berlin Chancellery.  He explained why he had had to abandon his offensive against the British El Alamein position, attributing it solely to the shortcomings of the Italian officers and British air supremacy.  But when Rommel reported that British planes were knocking out his tanks with 40-millimeter shells G–ring scoffed, “Out of the question—the Americans only know how to make razor blades !”  Rommel retorted, “Herr Reichsmarschall, I wish we had blades like that.”  Hitler showed him the prototypes of new self-propelled assault guns Albert Speer had collected at the Chancellery that morning—formidable low-chassis armored vehicles mounting the well-proven 105-millimeter guns and presenting a remarkably small target profile to the enemy.  He told Rommel of the new Tiger tanks and promised to send forty of them and all the gasoline Rommel needed across to Africa by means of countless Siebel ferriess—mall flat-bottomed ferries with powerful antiaircraft defenses.  The promises remained unfulfilled.  Rommel later wrote that Hitler had been misled by his armaments production experts, but even Speer had only promised Hitler a dozen of the assault guns by the end of October.  Hitler was an optimist, however ;  he told Rommel of a weapon of such appalling power it would blast a man off his horse two miles away.  Evidently his imagination had run riot on Speer’s sober account of Germany’s modest atomic research effort some months before.  He liked Rommel, too—he was planning to make him Commander in Chief of the army when the time came.

Hitler returned to the Ukraine on October 4.  Halder was finally gone.  Zeitzler’s verve infected every war conference, evoking from Hitler Napoleon’s maxim “activitÈ, activitÈ, vitesse !”  Zeitzler took control of the eastern front, while Jodl and the OKW controlled the other theaters—a division of responsibility reflected in the war conferences at headquarters, where Zeitzler first briefed Hitler on the Russian front, not infrequently in strict privacy, followed by Jodl on the “OKW theaters.”  Hitler encouraged the innovation, seeing in Zeitzler the tactical experience needed for Russia and in Jodl the broad strategic vision Zeitzler lacked for the other theaters.  Zeitzler toured the southern front at once, returned to Vinnitsa, and issued over Hitler’s name a string of realistic orders designed to increase the army’s fighting strength—from the proper use of modern weapons, ammunition, and minefields down to the introduction of special rations for combat troops.

Nor were either of these military advisers sycophants.  On one occasion the stenographers caught their breath as General Jodl, propped on an elbow on the map table, glanced briefly at Hitler and replied, “Mein F¸hrer, that is an order I will not comply with.”  On another occasion Zeitzler warned that unless a certain salient was withdrawn, the troops would lose confidence in their leadership.  Hitler, his awe of the newcomer now diminished, thundered at him, “You’re just a staff officer.  What do you know about the troops !”  Zeitzler sharply reminded the F¸hrer that in August 1914 he had gone to war as an infantry ensign—his knapsack on his back and his rifle on his shoulder—to fight in Belgium.  “For bravery in the face of the enemy I was promoted to lieutenant.  For three years I commanded a company and for one year I was regimental adjutant.  I was wounded twice.  I think my combat experience is as good as yours.”  Hitler paled, instructed the general to proceed with the conference, and avoided attacking him personally after that.

Thus Zeitzler’s position became entrenched.  Keitel, by way of contrast, had long forfeited Hitler’s esteem.  Hitler took to making “good-humored” fun of his absent commanders.  “My field marshals are great tacticians,” he guffawed once.  “By tactics, of course, they mean retreating !”  Enjoying the dutiful laughter he added, “My field marshals’ horizon is the size of a lavatory lid !”  Field Marshal Keitel did not move a muscle as the others laughed.  The next day an adjutant informed Hitler that Zeitzler wanted a brief private word with him ;  the meeting took place at midnight.  He cordially shook the general’s hand.  “What can I do for you ?”  “Mein F¸hrer,” replied Zeitzler, “I must speak my mind.  As an army general I take exception to the language you used about our field marshals.  May I ask you not to use expressions like that in my presence again ?”  Hitler was dumbfounded, then gave him his hand.  “I thank you.”  As Zeitzler later put it, the F¸hrer was unpredictable.  When Antonescu visited him three months later, Hitler introduced Zeitzler to him with the words “This is my new Chief of General Staff.  A man of iron nerves and great war experience.”

The war had taken on many new dimensions since 1939.  In the east and southeast armies of partisans and bandits were fighting a new kind of campaign.  In the west too the Allies were emulating—and far surpassing—the tactics of the Abwehr in commando warfare.  These peripheral successes struck a raw nerve in Hitler, whether the target was a secret radar site in France or a German oil dump in North Africa.  He showed little inclination to mercy when the commandos were caught :  in August, six Britons captured in North Africa behind the lines had caused great damage and many German casualties ;  two of them were wearing items of German uniforms.  Hitler ordered their execution.  As he warned his western commanders in October, unless they closed their hearts and acted ruthlessly against the Allied commandos, they would find themselves enmeshed in a partisan struggle no less gruesome than that in the east.  Never before had “illegals” played such a part in war—disrupting transport, intimidating the pro-Germans, and sabotaging vital installations.  One saboteur could paralyze a power plant and thus deprive the Luftwaffe of thousands of tons of aluminum.  The British commandos concealed their uniforms under civilian clothing, so they could escape or surrender as they chose—“The worst possible abuse of the Geneva Convention,” said Hitler, conveniently forgetting the tactics he had devised for the invasion of Holland.

A commando-training manual fell into his hands, with diagrams on how to slit human throats and how to truss prisoners so that a noose around their neck would strangle them if they moved.  Some corpses trussed like this had been found.  Similar instructions captured in North Africa had been commendably disowned by the British government.  In September he was told that the British had machine-gunned the survivors of a sinking German minelayer.  “It is essential that we give the British as good as we get—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” fulminated Hitler.  “We must declare at once that henceforth parachuting airmen will be fired on, that our submarines will shell the survivors from torpedoed ships, regardless of whether they are soldiers or civilians, women or children ! ... The British are realists, devoid of any scruple and as cold as ice ;  but as soon as we show our teeth, they become propitiary and almost friendly !”  He ordered the navy to commence reprisals, but Raeder demurred.  German career officers were too steeped in the traditions of “old-fashioned” wars—the kind fought before the strategic bomber and the atomic weapon—to accept Hitler’s radical ideas.

On his return to Vinnitsa on October 4 news reached him of a British commando raid on the tiny Channel island of Sark the night before.  The island was guarded only by a rifle company.  The commandos had seized five army engineers sleeping in a hotel, manacled them, and then shot and stabbed them to death before withdrawing.  Hitler immediately ordered all the prisoners taken at Dieppe manacled as a reprisal until the British government undertook not to repeat such methods ;  the British proclaimed they would retaliate against the same number of Axis prisoners in their own camps.  Hitler had meanwhile drafted a text for the daily OKW communiquÈ broadcast on the seventh :  “The terror and sabotage squads of the British and their accomplices act more like bandits than soldiers.  In the future they will be treated as such by the German troops and ruthlessly put down in battle, wheresoever they may appear.”

General Jodl urged Hitler to leave it at that—the warning words would alone deter, no need actually to put them into practice.  Hitler disagreed.  He grumbled about his generals’ timidity and their unwillingness to carry out even his order for the liquidation of the Soviet army commissars.  “The war ministry is to blame ;  they always wanted the soldier’s profession to be on a par with the parson’s !”  Keitel and Jodl refused to draft the new order, so Hitler dictated it to one of his own secretaries.  He justified it by referring to the commandos’ methods as being outside the Geneva Conventions.  “Captured papers show that they are ordered not only to manacle their prisoners, but to kill their defenseless prisoners out of hand the moment they feel such prisoners might become a burden or hindrance to them in the prosecution of their purposes.”  Jodl, unhappily distributing Hitler’s order to the commanders on October 19, urgently warned them not to let it fall into enemy hands.

Thus the reported tactics of the British commandos had tragic consequences for many others who fell into German hands.  A thirst for revenge also played its part.  For example, the record of Hitler’s war conference on October 23 began :  “In reprisal for the fresh British air raid on a casualty clearing station in Africa the F¸hrer has ordered the immediate execution of the Briton captured during the sabotage attack on the power station at Glomfjord.”  A week later an attempt by six British sailors to destroy the battleship Tirpitz—wintering in a Norwegian fjord—came to grief when their two-man torpedoes were lost in foul weather.  Himmler reported to Hitler that all were in plain clothes and that their ship had flown the Norwegian flag.  Norwegian frontier guards had captured them, but the six had opened fire with concealed weapons, and five had escaped into Sweden ;  technically, they were clearly illegals.  Hitler ordered the sixth, a twenty-year-old seaman who had been shot through the legs by his Norwegian captors, to be executed.  Three weeks later the same fate met the fourteen British survivors of a commando-style attack launched on a hydroelectric power station in Norway :  the first glider had crashed into the sea, killing all aboard ;  the second had crashed with its towing aircraft into a hillside.  The Norwegian police rounded up the survivors.  The Germans found extensive sabotage equipment in the wreckage.  In accordance with the new Commando Order, all fourteen were shot before darkness fell.(1)  Some of them had been in uniform, and this may have given Hitler misgivings, for when Britain formally protested months later, Hitler dictated to Jodl a note of reply :  Insofar as they were in uniform and executing an obvious military mission, enemy soldiers would be treated according to the Convention ;  but soldiers “dropped behind our lines for clandestine sabotage operations” in unorthodox or civilian clothing, or equipped with “treacherously concealed firearms,” would be put to death.

In the Balkans a partisan war of unexampled ferocity was raging, thanks to the devious policies of the Italians and the ineptness of the puppet governments Hitler had established.  In April 1941, Yugoslavia had been dismembered into Croatia, governed by a “Poglavnik,” Ante Pavelic, and Serbia, which came under German military rule.  The Italians had occupied Montenegro and part of Croatia, and they were annexing large stretches of the Croatian coastline.  By May 1941 partisan warfare had broken out throughout what was formerly Yugoslavia.  In Serbia it was ruthlessly quelled by the Germans ;  but in Croatia rival armies of guerrillas and bandits roamed the land, terrorizing the pro-Germans, robbing and plundering and murdering, paralyzing the new Croatian state’s machinery from the outset.  The Cetniks, led by Draza Mihajlovic, were fighting for the restoration of the monarchy in Yugoslavia ;  the partisans, led by Tito, were fighting for Communist ideals ;  the Ustasha, the Croatian government troops, were fighting an ineffective campaign against them all, hampered by a lack of even the simplest weapons, since the Italians were failing to supply them.  Mussolini complained that the Croats were persecuting the Serbian minority and had killed two hundred thousand men, women, and children.  His own Second Army, commanded by the controversial General Mario Roatta, sided not with the Ustasha but the Cetniks—even to the extent of arming them against Tito’s partisans.  The Italians were weaving a tangled web indeed.

It was not only that all this laid bare the growing divergence of German and Italian aims.  Croatia was of great strategic importance :  across the country passed the German supply lines to Saloniki and North Africa ;  and it exported oil and two hundred thousand tons of bauxite to Germany annually.  Order and control were imperative to the Nazis.  But the Italians were suppressing the Croat population and actively shielding the Jews—the very subversive elements against whom the Poglavnik was struggling to apply repressive laws similar to those enforced in Germany.  Hitler thrashed out this explosive situation with the Poglavnik and the German military commanders late in September.  He had two divisions in Croatia, and a Croat battalion was already fighting before Stalingrad ;  more were being trained—an entire foreign legion—by the Waffen SS, but now the Poglavnik would need them to restore order in Croatia.  All this was the result of Roatta’s strange dealings, but Hitler was loath to embarrass Mussolini, and the papers sent down to Rome were stripped of any references that might offend Italian susceptibilities.  As Ribbentrop wrote in mid-October :  “The German-Italian alliance is and always has been the basis of our foreign policy.”

In private Hitler regretted the Italians’ kid-glove treatment of the Serbs.  Only brute force bereft of inhibitions would work—just as only brute force would work in the war against the partisans in Russia.  “On principle, when combatting illegals, anything that works is right—and I want that hammered into everybody,” he laid down.  “This gives everybody the freedom of action they need. ... If the illegals use women and children as shields, then our officer or NCO must be able to open fire on them without hesitation.  What matters is that he gets through and wipes out the illegals.”  Hitler wanted no “pedantic” disciplinary action against the officer afterward.  Himmler took the hint.  In August, September, October, and November his security forces counted 1,337 dead Russian partisans and executed a further 8,564 taken prisoner.  His report to Hitler for the same period listed 16,553 “partisan accomplices and suspects” captured, of which 14,257 were executed ;  an additional 363,211 Russian Jews were claimed to have been executed under the same heading.

Hitler could look east without qualms.  General Ruoff’s Seventeenth Army was still struggling through the mountains toward Tuapse and the Black Sea.  Yard by yard Stalingrad was being overrun.  Soon his armies could have their well-earned winter respite.  On October 14 he issued orders for winter positions to be built along the current front line—making rigorous use of prisoners, civilians, and women to aid in their construction.  The next day Field Marshal von Richthofen, one of Hitler’s favorite Luftwaffe commanders, called.  Richthofen’s diary reports :  “The F¸hrer was in good humor because of Stalingrad and of having got rid of Halder.  Particularly affectionate to me ... The F¸hrer curses with vehemence (and justification) the name of List.  My operational plans [in the Caucasus] are approved.  I tell him something of our infantry weakness, our tactics, and above all our difficult terrain.  Zeitler is stout and cheerful....”

A few days later, Ruofl’s campaign finally ground to a halt.  In the last week of October the spirit of Paulus’s troops in Stalingrad also flagged.  Richthofen wrote :  “The main reasons lie in the weariness of the combat troops and commanders, and in the army’s pedantic tolerance of a ration strength of twelve thousand men per division, of whom only a thousand are actually in the front line.... I tell Paulus of this, but he naturally doesn’t agree.”  Zeitzler still spoke highly of Paulus to Hitler.  But on October 26 he admitted at Hitler’s war conference :  “In the Sixth Army’s view the enemy’s resistance at Stalingrad is so stiff that the fighting will not result in the city’s capture until November 10.”

The capture of the Caucasian oil fields was impossible before winter, so on October 7, Hitler had ordered the Luftwaffe to destroy the Soviet oil fields around Saratov and Grozny.  Two weeks later he added Astrakhan and Baku to the target lists.  Maykop had been in German hands since August, but it was a shambles—the oil wells either blown up or cemented over.  The army’s petroleum brigade reported that a year’s reconstruction effort would be needed.  Now Hitler was told that much more convenient oil fields were available in the Taman peninsula.  For three months the petroleum brigade had done virtually nothing at Maykop on the blithe assumption that Baku and Grozny would shortly be in German hands.  After Hitler’s orders for the bombing and sabotage of those oil fields, the severity of the oil crisis became apparent to everybody.  The Italian navy shrieked for more oil without satisfactorily explaining what it had done with the thousands of tons Germany had already supplied.  The German admiralty pointed out that the transfer of the Scharnhorst, N¸rnberg, Prinz Eugen, and L¸tzow to Norway would alone cost nine thousand tons of fuel oil, leaving only one thousand tons for actual operations in November and two thousand tons in December.

German manpower was an equally scarce war commodity.  Industry relied on the 6,000,000 foreign workers procured by Hitler’s labor dictator, Fritz Sauckel—but while Sauckel insisted they must be properly fed, the local Gauleiters often thought differently.  Speer promised to raise three divisions from German munitions workers, but he shortly reduced his offer to only a quarter of the 50,000 men he originally spoke of ;  the divisions never actually materialized.  The army itself was 1,000,000 men under strength.  Not so the Luftwaffe :  Hitler had always believed its strength was only 1,600,000 men—now he learned that it was bloated to 1,980,000 men in anticipation of the doubling of its squadron strength, something long since abandoned by Hitler as impracticable.  Hitler ordered both the navy and the Luftwaffe to transfer manpower to the anemic army, but G–ring decided instead to create twenty Luftwaffe “field divisions” rather than see his airmen forced into the army’s reactionary field-gray ranks.  Thus to satisfy G–ring’s stubborn vanity 220,000 of his troops were to find themselves fighting—often at the most crucial sectors—inadequately trained and with no combat experience.

Coupled with these manpower and materials shortages was the complete bankruptcy of Hitler’s Intelligence services by the autumn of 1942.  Colonel Reinhard Gehlen’s army Intelligence consistently predicted until early November that the Russian offensive would open not in the south but against Smolensk or even Velikiye Luki, on the northern front.  Admiral Wilhelm Canaris’s Abwehr produced equally convincing evidence that the Allies were planning a Second Front not, for example, in North Africa, but against the Cherbourg peninsula.  As General Fromm—responsible for raising the new divisions—commented, “If the attacks on Cherbourg and Velikiye Luki coincide, they may cost us the war.”  Moreover, Hitler was still misled as to Stalin’s coming strength.  (On October 21, Keitel said, “The F¸hrer is convinced the Russians are collapsing.  He says that twenty million will have to starve.”)  The first three Luftwaffe field divisions were sent to Velikiye Luki, as were sections of the Eleventh Army—which meant finally abandoning the assault on Leningrad.  But a Russian attack on Smolensk would be even more likely, in Hitler’s view, so he transferred the Seventh Air Division paratroops and the 20th Panzer Division there as well.  These were fatal errors.

Yet Hitler did not accept Gehlen’s judgment willingly.  By October 26 he was clearly rattled by concrete evidence of Russian plans to cross the Don just where the Axis front was weakest—held only by the reluctant Italians and Romanians.  The army group interpreted the dense night traffic toward Serafimovich as unimportant replenishments, but when the enemy started constructing heavy bridges across the Don, Hitler knew differently ;  he had built bridges across rivers himself and knew what it presaged.  He ordered more Luftwaffe field divisions moved into the endangered Italian and Romanian sectors.  He was convinced Stalin planned to strike westward toward Rostov—and strike before 1942 was over !  The General Staff disagreed.  On November 6, Gehlen insisted there were no signs of any Soviet offensive in the south in the near future ;  far more likely was a drive against Smolensk, followed by a thrust to the Baltic to cut off the whole of Army Group North.  Thus the Russians would wipe out the threat to Moscow and win a prestige victory relatively easily, while in the south the logistical and transport difficulties would surely dissuade them.  Nor, stated Gehlen, would the Russian offensive begin before the ground froze over.  He was to prove wrong on all counts.

Hitler also saw no cause to suspect that the Mediterranean theater would soon be in an uproar.  In mid-October indications had multiplied that the Allies might invade West Africa ;  however, the OKW considered this unlikely before spring.  But the F¸hrer’s agents in Spain could see the Allied shipping build up at Gibraltar, and this indicated some operation within the Mediterranean.  Respect for Mussolini’s feelings figured among his reasons for not reinforcing the Vichy French forces in French North Africa.  The Italians were less sanguine and actively prepared to invade Tunisia (a French domain) the moment the enemy should arrive.

Rommel was in Germany on sick leave.  He had told Hitler that the El Alamein position was virtually impregnable.  But late on October 23, General Montgomery launched a massive and unheralded attack with 150,000 men supported by over 1,000 tanks and 800 planes.  The Axis was outnumbered nearly 2 to 1.  Rommel’s stand-in was killed by a heart attack and by the next day one panzer division had only 31 of its 119 tanks left.  The enemy’s American Sherman tank seemed invincible.  Rommel, who hurried back to Africa, found his army’s fuel and ammunition almost at an end.  Despite the Luftwaffe’s around-the-clock bombing of Malta, the Axis supply convoys to North Africa had been cut to pieces.  The Italian sectors of Rommel’s front dissolved overnight ;  tens of thousands surrendered to the British.  His supplies dried up.  The Luftwaffe commander in the Mediterranean wrote in his diary :  “The blackest day was October 26 :  a big tanker and a smaller merchantman were sunk just short of Tobruk after we had escorted them successfully for two days.  Thus a crisis of undreamed-of proportions has emerged for the panzer army.  The failure of the Italian fighter escort is to blame—it just did not show up.... Kesselring came, worried out of his mind.  Lunch was like in a mortuary.... Everybody’s hopes were pinned on the second tanker, which sailed on October 28.  In the night it was reported sunk.”  On the thirty-first he wrote :  “The situation at the front is slightly better.  The British have taken some heavy blows and have to regroup.  They will begin again in one or two days.  A weak relief is the docking of the Brioni on the thirtieth, bringing some ammunition and fuel.”  Indeed, both Rommel and Kesselring—and the Italian High Command—were confident that the crisis had been overcome.  Hitler willingly believed them.

In what now followed, the human element weighs as heavily as the military.  Hitler was preoccupied by the eastern front ;  besides, his headquarters was in the midst of returning from the Ukraine to East Prussia—forty-nine trainloads of officers and men, machinery and paraphernalia.  On November 2 all hell broke loose in North Africa again, as General Montgomery hurled his tanks and artillery against Rommel’s well-fortified minefields at El Alamein.  The line was breached, and enemy armor began to pour through.  In his interim report, received by the OKW that evening, Rommel suddenly sounded despondent and anxious :

Despite today’s defensive success, the army’s strength is exhausted after ten days’ tough fighting against British ground and air forces many times its superior.  Therefore the army will no longer be capable of impeding the strong enemy tank formations expected to repeat their breakthrough attempt tonight or tomorrow.  For want of motor transport it will not be possible for the six Italian and two German nonmotorized divisions to withdraw in good order.  A large part of these units will probably fall into the hands of the enemy’s mechanized formations.  But even our mobile troops are embroiled in such heavy fighting that only part will be able to disengage themselves from the enemy.  Such ammunition stocks as there are lie close to the front lines, while in the rear there are no stocks worth talking of.  Our meager fuel supplies will not permit any withdrawals over long distances.  It is certain that the army will be attacked day and night by the British air force on the one road available to it.

In this situation the gradual destruction of the army must therefore be assumed as inevitable, despite the heroic resistance and exemplary spirit of the troops.

sgd. ROMMEL, Field Marshal

At 11 P.M. Hitler telephoned Jodl’s staff officer, Colonel Christian, to ask if there was any more news from Rommel, and to check with Rome to find out.  There was no news.  In North Africa, however, Rommel had succumbed to a black despair.  Still a sick man and cowed by the ceaseless British bombardment, he had already ordered his army to abandon El Alamein—without notifying anybody to that effect.  The retreat began at 10 P.M.  To cover himself, Rommel later dispatched to his superiors a lengthy but seemingly routine daily report, near the end of which he surreptitiously buried the announcement that he had bowed before the enemy’s strength and would withdraw from El Alamein the next day, November 3 :  “The infantry divisions will already be withdrawn during the coming night, November 2-3.”  To announce a strategic decision in such a furtive way was, as Jodl’s deputy, Warlimont, later pointed out, against all accepted military usage.  The result was that Rommel’s illicit retreat was already twelve hours old when Hitler first learned of it.

At midnight, Rome advised Colonel Christian that the routine report from Rommel was just being decoded, and it arrived by teletype at the F¸hrer’s headquarters at 3 A.M.  But Jodl’s night duty officer, an elderly major of the reserve, overlooked the vital sentence announcing the retreat and left the report unforwarded until morning.  It was belatedly rushed over to Hitler at 9 A.M.:  thus he was awakened with the news that Rommel was retreating.  In the angry scene that followed, he blamed Keitel in particular for the OKW’s lackadaisical attitude.  For a time he suspected that the OKW had deliberately sat on Rommel’s report in order to confront him with a fait accompli in Africa.  “At this critical moment Rommel turned to me and the Fatherland !” he exclaimed.  “We should have been stiffening his resolve.  If I’d been awakened I would have taken full responsibility and ordered him to stand fast.  But our Mr. Warlimont is snug asleep while Rommel is appealing to me !”

Hitler believed he could still give Rommel—a sensitive, almost childlike personality—the inspiration he seemed to be begging for.  While the chief of the Italian comando supremo signaled Rommel to hold the El Alamein position “whatever the cost,” at 1 P.M. on November 3 Hitler radioed to Rommel the following message, finely attuned to the susceptibilities of the field marshal :

With me the entire German people is watching your heroic defensive battle in Egypt, with rightful confidence in your leadership qualities and the courage of your German and Italian troops.  In your situation there can be no thought but of persevering, of yielding not one yard, and of hurling every gun and every fighting man available into the battle.  Considerable air force reinforcements are being transferred over the coming days to Commander in Chief South [Kesselring].  The Duce and the comando supremo will also do their utmost to furnish you with the means to keep up the fight.

Despite his superiority the enemy must also be at the end of his strength.  It would not be the first time in history that the stronger will has triumphed over the stronger battalions of an enemy.  To your troops therefore you can offer no other path than that leading to Victory or Death.


The night duty officer was fetched.  Hitler questioned him in person, warning, “If you don’t tell me the absolute truth, I’ll have you dead inside ten minutes !”  Rommel also was interrogated by radio, asked to state the precise time that the infantry retreat had begun.  He radioed back :  “In the latter part of the night”—so it seemed that, but for the report’s inexcusable delay, Hitler could still have stepped in to forbid the retreat.  Punishment was swift :  the major was reduced to the ranks and sent to the front ;  his superior, Warlimont, was evicted from the OKW and the F¸hrer’s headquarters that same day.  But Rommel’s reply was, of course, a lie :  his retreat had begun at 10 P.M., before his report had been dispatched.  On Schmundt’s insistence, Warlimont was reinstated, and even the major’s lapse was not held against him long.

Another field marshal would have paid dearly for this deceit.  Guderian had been sacked, Hoepner discharged from the army, and Sponeck condemned to death for just such actions as this.  But by adroit public relations Rommel had developed a charisma which made even a popular dictator hesitate to take disciplinary action.

Rommel wavered throughout the day.  He rescinded his order to retreat, but already it was too late.  Half his troops and 40 percent of his artillery were lost.  As November 3 ended, he had only twenty-four tanks left.  The next day he and Kesselring reported separately that the battlefront no longer existed, and formally asked permission to revert to “mobile warfare,” defending every foot of ground until the new line at Fuka was reached.  Hitler sourly replied that evening, “In view of the way things have gone, I approve your decision.”  He had no choice, though privately he doubted Rommel could hold the Fuka or any other line.  He felt Rommel’s nerve had failed him.(2)  Two years later he brooded :  “He should have stood his ground up front [at El Alamein], that was his only chance of saving anything.  He didn’t compensate for the enemy’s superiority of numbers by heading for the wide-open spaces—that was where their superiority really began to take effect.  At that bottleneck, just forty miles across, you could just about survive an attack.  But the moment you were forced out and lost the cover of the [Qattara] depression to your left, all the lessons of desert warfare showed you were liable to be leapfrogged again and again by the enemy. . . .”  Too late, Hitler ordered reinforcements rushed to North Africa—the deadly Tiger tanks, guns, ammunition, fuel, two fighter squadrons from Russia, and a bomber squadron from Norway.  These steps “would have brought far more realistic relief if only one-quarter fulfilled two weeks ago, than at this present juncture of the battle,” a local Luftwaffe commander observed.  In Africa a rout that was to end dismally in Tunis six months later had begun.

Hitler’s attention was still captured by events in the east, where he feared his armies were about to lose the initiative.  As the rumored Russian offensive against Velikiye Luki in the far north failed to materialize, he began to plan his own attack, now that he had been duped into moving his reserves up there.

While at the southern end of the front the First Panzer Army’s advance on Ordzhonikidze was going well, in Stalingrad the infantry was losing heart.  Perhaps Paulus himself was to blame.  Field Marshal von Richthofen was to note in his diary in mid-November :

... Telephoned Zeitzler about the need for really energetic leadership in the battle for Stalingrad, or for the attack to be called off otherwise.  If the moppingup is not done now, with the Volga icing over and the Russians in Stalingrad in dire distress, we will never pull it off.  Besides, the days are getting shorter and the weather worse.  Zeitzler promised to tell the F¸hrer ;  he shares my view.  During the night a F¸hrer Order came to the Sixth Army in line with my telephone suggestion.  But I still don’t think it will work.  I stressed to Zeitzler that the commanders and combat troops in Stalingrad are so apathetic that only the injection of a new spirit will get us anywhere.  I suggested the commanders—who are otherwise trustworthy enough—should be sent on leave for a while to let very different types take their place.  But “up top” there isn’t the toughness for that.

As with Rostov the year before, the sheer size of Stalingrad had taken Hitler by surprise ;  it sprawled over an area about the distance from Berlin to Brandenburg.  But he accepted Paulus’s assurances that the battle was all but won.

Hitler was still hypnotized by the obvious Russian preparations north of Stalingrad.  The OKW historian recorded :  “War conference with F¸hrer on November 2 : ... The Russian attack feared across the Don toward Rostov is again discussed.  More and more Russian bridges are being built there.  The Luftwaffe is to submit reconnaissance mosaics.  The F¸hrer orders very heavy air attacks on the bridge sites and troop assembly areas suspected in the forests on the other river bank.”  On the fifth the historian noted :  “According to Chief of General Staff [Zeitzler], a council of war was attended by all supreme commanders in Moscow on November 4 :  the Big Push is apparently planned for the Don or central fronts before this year is out.”  Soon after, two thousand enemy vehicles were glimpsed massing north of Kletskaya, and the headquarters of a new Russian army group, the “Southwest Front,” was detected at nearby Serafimovich.  But even now Gehlen’s estimate was that the Russians just planned to cut the one railroad supplying Paulus’s army in Stalingrad from the west.

Hitler feared that Stalin was capable of more.

Before this fear materialized, momentous events occurred in the Mediterranean, shaking the Axis partnership to its very foundations.

Throughout October the Abwehr and SS Intelligence agencies had been swamped with “enemy invasion plans.”  Some spoke of Norway, others of the Channel coast or the Mediterranean.  Hitler intuitively believed only the latter :  as the Italian divisions marched into enemy captivity in Egypt, Mussolini’s prestige was already crumbling.  Air raids on Italian towns had sapped morale.  A further military setback in the Mediterranean might force Italy out of the war—indeed, diplomatic sources in Rome detected the first neutralist undercurrents in government circles there.  The whiff of treason was already in the air.  Hitler’s military liaison reported on November 6 that Mussolini thought the time now ripe to make amends to Stalin.  Small wonder that Hitler believed he could postpone his next meeting with the tired and ailing Fascist dictator no longer, urgently though he himself was needed at his East Prussian headquarters.

Besides, he had gradually become aware that an immense fleet of ships was assembling at Gibraltar, a fleet far bigger than the harbor at Malta could accommodate ;  so this was no mere supply convoy.  Hitler had recently suspected that the enemy would invade Sardinia or Corsica prior to striking at the Italian mainland itself.  Much of the Luftwaffe’s strength had been withdrawn eastward from Sicily, but Hitler had ordered all available German submarines to the western Mediterranean.  As late as November 4 the navy would have none of this, insisting that the enemy was just preparing to fight a big supply convoy through to Malta.  If this was an invasion fleet, where were the troop transports ?  On the sixth they changed their tune.  The armada had sailed, and Italian Intelligence now reported what the German Abwehr had not—that the vessels had trucks and invasion tackle on their decks and they were joining convoys of ships streaming eastward through the Strait of Gibraltar.  The navy judged that the enemy planned to invade Libya, in Rommel’s rear ;  less likely targets would be Sicily, Sardinia, or the Italian mainland ;  French North Africa was considered least likely of all, as the enemy would hardly drive France into Hitler’s arms.  Though both Mussolini and the Luftwaffe believed an enemy invasion of Algeria far more likely—beyond the range of Axis air power—Hitler had by November 7 bowed to the navy’s judgment that the likely targets were Tripoli or Benghazi, and he ordered emergency measures there, including street barricades.

He personally radioed to the handful of submarines and torpedo boats in the Mediterranean :  “Army’s survival in Africa depends on destruction of British naval forces.  I expect determined, victorious attack.”  But the navy had stationed these ships in the central Mediterranean, far to the east of where the enemy’s invasion designs lay.  The failure of Hitler’s Intelligence service was thus to cost many German lives over the months to come.

Early on the afternoon of November 7, 1942, Hitler’s train left Rastenburg for Berlin and Munich—where he was to meet the Italians. At a 7 P.M. war conference, Jodl briefed him on the latest position of the enemy armada in the Mediterranean :  it was still heading due east and would probably pass through the Strait of Sicily.  But one of the last Intelligence reports had mentioned Oran as an invasion target, and Hitler’s ears had pricked up at this, for Oran would lie outside Axis aircraft range.  Toward the end of the conference, the naval staff telephoned Hitler’s train with confirmation :  from the armada’s 6 P.M. position and the ships’ speeds, the Italians deduced that it must be an invasion of Algeria—they would hardly risk forcing the Strait of Sicily in broad daylight.  Hitler accepted this calculation.  It was a bitter pill to swallow, and his disappointment at his Intelligence agencies must have been profound.  But he remained outwardly calm and detached.

His train was halted by a signal at a little railroad station deep in the Thuringian forest.  Walther Hewel was called to the stationmaster’s telephone—the foreign ministry was on the line.  British radio stations were announcing that an American invasion force was disembarking at Algiers, Oran, and Casablanca.(3)  Before the train moved off, Hitler ordered all the necessary countermeasures put into effect.  In a speech some hours later, President Roosevelt was heard justifying the invasion action as being necessary to thwart a threatened invasion by the Axis.  Roosevelt appealed to the Vichy French forces not to resist, but the aged Marshal PÈtain, deeply shaken by Roosevelt’s “perfidy,” ordered his troops to defend France’s African possessions to the bitter end.

Ribbentrop could not be reached, so at 2:30 P.M. Hitler ordered the train stopped again, and Walther Hewel telephoned to the foreign ministry the text of urgent new instructions that Hitler wanted transmitted immediately to Ambassador Otto Abetz in France :

Ambassador Abetz is to approach the French government immediately and is to inquire whether they are seriously willing to fight with us against the British and Americans.  This would entail that France not only break off diplomatic relations with those two countries, but also declare war on them as if she had been attacked by an enemy.  If the French government makes an unambiguous declaration like this, then we would be ready to go through thick and thin with the French government.

At Bamberg railroad station, shortly before Munich, Ribbentrop stepped aboard Hitler’s train.  He had hastily flown down from Berlin after arranging for Count Ciano to come at once to Munich—Mussolini being indisposed.  Hitler wanted to discuss this new opportunity of reversing Germany’s policies toward France, but Ribbentrop brimmed with gloomier topics.  From the latest Allied figures on the size of their invasion fleet, it was obvious the Germans had overestimated their U-boats’ abilities to strangle the western powers.  The entire Axis position in the Mediterranean was endangered—unless Hitler could let up on commitments elsewhere.  “Give me permission to put out peace feelers to Stalin, via his ambassadress in Stockholm, Madame Kollontay,” appealed Ribbentrop, “even if we have to sacrifice virtually everything we have conquered in the east !”  Hitler rose angrily to his feet, reddened, and refused to discuss anything but North Africa.  A momentary military weakness was no time in which to put out peace feelers to an enemy poised to strike.

At 3:40 P.M. on the eighth, the train pulled into Munich.  As always the actual occurrence of the feared event had lifted the torturing burden of uncertainty and indecision.  At last he knew where the Second Front was—and it was not the European mainland.  Now he must airlift troops to Tunisia to bar the American advance.  Now the Italians must occupy Corsica.  Now Germany must make Crete the mightiest bastion of Axis power in the Mediterranean.  Now France must join the Axis cause.

At six o’clock, in a buoyant mood, he delivered his anniversary speech to the Party’s Old Guard at the L–wenbr”ukeller.  Two passages of the rambling, defiant rhetoric need quoting here.  In the first he reminded them of his 1939 Reichstag prophecy concerning the fate of the Jews.  “Of those who laughed then, countless already laugh no longer today ;  and those who still laugh today will probably not laugh much longer either.”  The second passage he must later have regretted ;  too willingly believing a message from General Georg von Sodenstern, Chief of Staff of Army Group B, that Stalingrad was virtually theirs, Hitler boasted :  “I wanted to reach the Volga—at a particular spot, at a particular city.  By coincidence it is blessed with Stalin’s name ... it is a vitally important city, because there you can cut off thirty million tons of river transport, including nine million tons of oil, it is there that the grain of the mighty Ukrainian and Kuban regions flows in for transportation to the north, there the manganese ore is processed—it was a huge shipment complex.  That was what I wanted to capture, and, do you know, modest as we are—we’ve got it too !  There are only a few more tiny pockets !  Now some may say, ‘Then why don’t you fight faster ?’—Because I don’t want a second Verdun, that’s why.”  Unable to eat his words just two weeks later, Hitler found himself politically committed to a strategy in Stalingrad which increasingly proved to be untenable.

Hitler’s newfound fondness toward the French, inspired by glowing accounts of the fierce fight put up by French warships defending Casablanca and Oran against the American invaders, lasted less than one day.  As the hours of November 9 ticked away he began to suspect that the French commanders were trying to make a deal with the enemy, if indeed they had not clandestinely done so long before.  On the eighth he had still believed General Henri-HonorÈ Giraud to be in France ;  the next day he found out that Giraud had slipped across to Africa aboard an enemy submarine to act for Eisenhower in Algiers.  Admiral Darlan, the French Supreme Commander, had “by chance” been in Algiers for some days and appeared to be directing the French resistance, which in the port itself collapsed on the first evening.  But Hitler believed that Darlan and General Alphonse Juin were still loyal—perhaps they were in enemy hands and being forced to issue the cease-fire orders to their troops.

Giraud’s switch to the Allies was too blatant to ignore, however.  Captured in May 1940, he had broken parole two years later and escaped to unoccupied France, where he had resisted Hitler’s blandishments to “do the decent thing” and report back to the prison camp.  The reprisals that his behavior had inflicted on his fellow officers in German hands failed to make Giraud reconsider.  He gave his word to Hitler’s emissary that he would never go to North Africa but would remain in unoccupied France.  He gave his written undertaking to Marshal PÈtain to do nothing against Germany.  All these promises Giraud had now broken.  Hitler’s fury at Giraud’s escape to Africa was matched by his contempt for Himmler’s secret agents who had constantly shadowed him but failed to prevent it.(4)

By the time Count Ciano was ushered into his study at the F¸hrer Building in Munich late on the ninth, profusely apologizing for Mussolini’s inability to leave Rome, Hitler’s old hostility toward France had rekindled in full.  He barked at the Italian foreign minister that he had decided to occupy the rest of France—the French were incorrigible, they would never learn to love either the Germans or the Italians.  An Axis bridgehead must be established in Tunisia forthwith.  Whatever France’s Premier Laval—due at 10 P.M.—might say, Hitler’s mind was already made up.  His troops were already massing along the demarcation line in France.  “Strike, strike, strike !”—It was the old Prussian remedy when all else failed.

Laval was delayed by fog ;  his car arrived in the small hours of the night.  Hitler postponed seeing him throughout the tenth, as the mists in North Africa were clearing.  He was seen deep in conference with Ribbentrop, Himmler, and the generals.  Himmler’s files bulge with the Intelligence reports the SS put to Hitler that day :  his agents at Vichy had intercepted Darlan’s message to PÈtain during the night demanding the execution of renegade officers.  But Darlan seemed to be playing a double game, for the SS agents also learned that French reserve officers were being called up, that Darlan’s staff was preparing to leave Vichy, and that all his war ministry files were being burned.  General Auguste NoguËs, the French resident-general in Morocco, was believed to be making a deal with the Americans.  At midday, Darlan’s name appeared on an order for all resistance to cease.  For twenty-four hours, Hitler continued to hope that Darlan’s name was being abused by the enemy.  But PÈtain broadcast Darlan’s dismissal early that afternoon, November 10, which strongly suggested that Darlan was a traitor to the Axis cause.  The luckless Pierre Laval was received now with barely concealed brusqueness.  Hitler told him of his demands for immediate access to Tunis.  Laval temporized and was coldly ushered out.(5)  At twenty past eight that evening Hitler issued the order for his troops to occupy a Tunis bridgehead and the rest of France the next morning.  It stated that as far as the French authorities were concerned “the occupation is being carried out in accord with the wishes of the French government.”  “Just like ‘Otto’ in 1938 ?” the Luftwaffe generals in Paris asked General Jeschonnek in Munich.  “Jawohl, just like Austria.”

This time there were no cheering crowds.  In southern France the occupation was greeted with a mixture of apathy and official correctness.  The real French hatred was reserved for the Italians occupying Corsica and the Riviera—with a sluggishness that infuriated Hitler—and arriving in Tunisia in the wake of the Germans.  The Italians in southern France had far overstepped the lines agreed on with the French.  Hitler learned that Laval had been overheard on the twelfth shouting into a telephone that if Italy did not withdraw her troops in twenty-four hours he would declare war on her !  This was a feud Hitler wanted to keep out of, and when G–ring asked if German antiaircraft guns could be stationed in the new Italian zone, he would not hear of it :  the German and Italian zones must be clearly separated by the Rhone.  The Italian antics drove Hitler’s last few supporters in France into open hostility and defection.  But a member of Jodl’s staff reported late on November 14 :  “The F¸hrer’s actions are governed by his consideration for Italy.  He believes it absolutely vital to bolster the Duce in every way we can, and this is why he categorically refuses to oppose Italy’s claim to leadership in the Mediterranean, including the coast of southern France, or to present the Italians with faits accomplis.”

“Operation Brown,” the hasty creation of an Axis bridgehead in Tunisia, was going well, but on November 12 the French forces in North Africa capitulated to the enemy.  Upon Darlan’s recognition by the Allies the next day as French head of state there, his defection could be doubted no longer.  Hitler realistically assumed that no Frenchman could be trusted to collaborate with him.  For two weeks, however, he simulated trust in the French navy.  He had no option, as he had no military means of detaining the French fleet of three battleships, an aircraft carrier, and over thirty destroyers at Toulon ;  he therefore accepted perforce the loyal promises of the navy’s senior admirals not to open hostile action against the Axis and to defend Toulon themselves to the best of their ability ;  in return, Hitler excluded Toulon from occupation by the Italians.  For a brief period a regular French infantry division defending the coast between Toulon and Marseilles actually came under German command.  But Hitler silently prepared for the worst.  A Luftwaffe general noted on November 16 :  “The F¸hrer fears the French will create an enclave paving the way for an Anglo-American invasion ;  that must be prevented.”  Intercepted telephone conversations of French naval officers revealed that the renegade Admiral Darlan was secretly being toasted in Paris as a national hero.  The Germans also learned to their chagrin that the apparently senile PÈtain could have been communicating secretly with Darlan all the time by underwater cable ;  so much for his protestations of loyalty broadcast by radio !  Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe’s bomber and minelaying squadrons to stand by on two hours’ notice in case the French fleet suddenly set sail, and on November 18 he decided to make a clean sweep—all Petain’s armed forces were to be disarmed, and the Toulon enclave overrun.  A date eight days hence was set for “Operation Lilac.”  Mussolini was not informed (Hitler wanted absolute secrecy);  but in spite of Raeder’s frantic objections, Hitler stipulated that the Italians should nonetheless be given the Toulon dockyard and the French fleet—or whatever remained of it.(6)  “Lilac” began before dawn on the twenty-seventh ;  by noon the French fleet no longer existed, its battleships blazing, stranded hulks, all but a handful of the rest scuttled or blown up by their crews.  Hitler gave the Italians the wreckage to pick over.  The French people seemed undistressed.  They had lost their army, their navy, and their empire ;  “America will see us through all right,” was the average Frenchman’s philosophical belief.  Throughout occupied France new painted slogans appeared overnight on a thousand walls :  Vive l’AmÈrique ! and patriotically, 1918 !.  Germany’s defeat was regarded as a certainty now.

All this was reported to Hitler.  By now he had resigned himself to a long stay in south Germany and was living at the Berghof.  Snow gripped the mountains as far as the eye could see.  He badly needed respite.  North Africa was causing ominous rumblings everywhere.  Even neutral Sweden was becoming rambunctious, and the partisans in the Balkans were encouraged to redouble their insurgency.  In Germany the public stoically steeled itself for eventual defeat.  East Prussia would fall to Poland or even Russia ;  Germany would be maimed and dismembered.  The diplomats again hinted that this was their last chance to extend feelers toward Stalin—while the Red Army was still being held at bay.  Hitler hesitated.  That a huge Russian offensive was coming he knew—but surely it was not coming yet.  How else could he interpret the army’s Intelligence reports ?  There was still time !

But there was not.  On November 19, 1942, the phone rang at the Berghof and General Zeitzler, the army’s Chief of Staff fighting an almost forgotten war from his headquarters in East Prussia, came on the line.  A heavy artillery bombardment had begun on the Don front north of Stalingrad ;  it had become a saturation barrage, and now masses of tanks, black with Russian troops, were swarming forward.  The Romanians were in full flight.  It was all happening just where Hitler had predicted.  The next day another offensive started, this time south of the city.  Two days later Stalingrad was encircled, and the fiercest drama of the war began.

1 The target, the Vemork power plant at Rjukan, had been selected because of its importance for the German atomic research program.

2 See Hitler’s remark in December 1942.  Throughout November, Rommel’s private letters betrayed an increasing despondency.  On December 11 he actually wrote his wife :  “. . . I would be grateful if you would send me by secret courier a small English-German dictionary.  I think I’m going to need it.”

3 The various enemy invasion convoys had suddenly headed sharply south, soon after the Italian sighting at 6 P.M.  As Hitler sourly pointed out in April 1944 :  “The few invasions they have carried out so far completely escaped our notice.... Take the North African invasion !”  And Keitel agreed :  “We were saying right up to the last moment that they’d sail on through.  Their vanguard was off Sicily, and we said they were going right on through.  Then all at once they made a right-about turn and did a beeline for the shore.”

4 One of the many legends created by the postwar trial at Nuremberg is that Hitler ordered Keitel to arrange for the assassination of Giraud.  No documentary evidence whatever has come to light for this.  Hitler’s contempt for governments that worked by assassination is well-documented, curiously enough—though in his own mind he evidently considered it proper to liquidate those he considered guilty of criminal treason, for example, Ernst R–hm or Otto Strasser.  It is a fine distinction.

5 According to Jodl’s naval staff officer—though not according to the official record of the meeting—“Laval was willing at Munich to request us to march in, ý la H·cha, but only if the Italians would not march in too, and that was the end of that idea.”

6 Hitler also ordered all stores and ships at Marseilles turned over to Italy, except for oil dumps.  Italy’s oil demands were a sore point, especially since Raeder had learned that the last five thousand tons he had sacrificed to Italy had been deliberately contaminated with gasoline to render it unfit for the Italian navy’s use—though suitable for civilian purposes.  After Italy’s defection in 1943, the Germans discovered tens of thousands of tons of oil secretly hoarded by the Italians.


p. 432   On October 26, 1942, Admiral Krancke reported to the naval staff the “perceptible relaxation” of tension at the F¸hrer HQ since Zeitzler had replaced Halder.  “Though the F¸hrer’s personal relationship to the headquarters generals hasn’t yet completely regained its old form.”  Goebbels also commented on the change in his diary, December 20-Zeitzler was doing his utmost to relieve Hitler of unnecessary work, which would, Goebbels hoped, leave the F¸hrer with more time to attend to the neglected affairs of state.

p. 433   For my investigation of the origins of Hitler’s Commando Order, I used Hitler’s letter to the Wehrmacht commands, October 18, 1942 (503-PS), and interrogations of Keitel and Jodl.  I myself have seen the British commando-training manual which fell into German hands (in private possession).  On the sinking of the minelayer Ulm and Hitler’s outburst, see naval staff war diary, September 11 and 14, and Table Talk September 6, evening.

pp. 433-34   The Sark raid which provoked the Commando Order is dealt with by the British official historian Professor M.R.D. Foot, in S.O.E. in France, page 186 ;  he no doubt accurately described the raiding force as “highly skilled and intelligent toughs of several nationalities.”  Foot appears unaware of the reports by Warlimont (T77/1428/1077 et seq.) and the First Army (T312/23/9771 et seq.) on the Sark raid.  For the consequences, see Greiner’s record of Warlimont’s report on Hitler’s conference on October 5 ;  the naval staff war diary, October 8, 9, and 11 ;  Weizs”cker’s diary, October 11, 1942 ;  interrogations of Warlimont and Baron Horst treusch von Bottlar-Brandenfels—who testified to Keitel’s and Jodl’s refusal to draft the actual Commando Order (dated October 18, 1942, in naval file PG/31755, or document 498-PS)—and the memoirs of Engel and Scheidt.  I also referred to Jodl’s own private papers on this controversial affair.

p. 434   The Gestapo interrogation of Paul Evans, who initially survived the brave attack on the Tirpitz was submitted to Hitler on November 10 and 11, 1942 (T175/124).  For the glider attack on Norway, see my book The Virus House (London, 1967 ;  The German Atomic Bomb, New York, 1968) and the May 1943 correspondence between OKW and foreign ministry on microfilm T77/1428/1071 et seq.

p. 436   The laconic report by Himmler to Hitler that 363,211 Russian Jews had been executed as “partisan accomplices and suspects” from August to November 1942 will be found on film T175/124.

p. 436   Richthofen added in his diary, quoting G–ring :  “F¸hrer wants me to take over List’s army group”;  but nothing came of it.  On the same day Helmuth Greiner confided to his private diary :  “Witchhunt by Luftwaffe brass against the army goes on.  Frightful arse-licking.”

p. 437   On the nonexploitation of the Maykop oil, see the Seventeenth Army’s report of August 19, 1942, in OKW war diary, Vol. II, page 581 ;  the unpublished war diary of the OKW economics staff, September 12, 1942 (T77/668);  and George Blau’s first-rate study, The German Campaign in Russia (U.S. Army, 1955), which uses the records of the staff’s “Technical Brigade (Petroleum, Russia).”

p. 437   As early as February 6, 1943, Hitler admitted to Manstein (diary) that the Luftwaffe field divisions had been a mistake.  See in general Lieutenant General Meindl’s report on their operations, May 15, 1943, submitted to Hitler (MD 51/551 et seq.)

pp. 437-38   Gehlen’s reports and appreciations will be found in his branch files (BA files H3/185 and H3/42o).  See also Greiner’s notes on the F¸hrer conferences of October 6, 7, 14, and 30.  As Jodl said under Russian interrogation, June 18, 1945 “The biggest [Intelligence] failure was in November 1942 when we totally missed the assembly of strong Russian troops on the Sixth Army’s flank on the Don.... There was nothing there before, then suddenly powerful forces launched a big push that won decisive significance.  After that mistake the F¸hrer mistrusted the General Staffs reconnaissance work.”  Jodl had leveled much the same criticism at the General Staff in his study of Hitler dated May 22, 1945 (Jodl papers).  In the naval staff war diary, November 8, 1942, is a hard-hitting analysis of the Abwehr’s total failure to detect the North African invasion planning.  Specific references to “Cherbourg” are in Greiner’s notes of October 5 and 9 ;  the Keitel quotation is from the diary of General Karl-Erik Koehler, Fromm’s Chief of Staff.p. 438   That Hitler anticipated the Soviet thrust toward Rostov :  Greiner’s unpublished notes on the F¸hrer’s conferences, October 25-26, and Admiral Krancke’s report in naval staff war diary, October 26, 1942.

p. 439   The Luftwaffe commander was General Hoffmann von Waldau (Tenth Air Corps), whose private diaries proved singularly illegible here—a faded blue carbon copy written in a minute hand and German script.  (I have handed my transcription to the IfZ in Munich.)  Among Antonescu’s papers the Russians found Keitel’s letter of October 31, 1942, appealing urgently for more oil for the Italian navy to support North African supply operations (ND, USSR-244).

p. 440   Rommel had copies of the main signals made six months later for his personal papers (T84/R276/0887 et seq.).  According to the texts decoded by the British intercept service, he also tried other sly tactics—like asking for Hitler’s “hold fast” order to be repeated to him.  My account also derives from the files of Panzer Army Africa, the diaries of Greiner and Waldau, and postwar testimony of Warlimont, Below, Junge, Scheidt, Kesselring, and others.  On November 3, Rommel wrote to his wife :  “The battle rages on in unremitting violence.  I can’t believe in a happy ending, not any longer.  [Alfred] Berndt [Rommel’s staff officer, a SS brigadier from Goebbels’s staff] is flying to report to the F¸hrer” (T84/R274/0891).  Rommel’s furtive methods were undoubtedly the reason for Hitler’s order on November 5—recorded by Greiner—“Command staffs subordinated to the OKW are to be instructed not to report special happenings in routine daily reports.”

p. 444   My description of Hitler’s train journey on November 7-8, 1942, relies on the naval staff war diary, and postwar manuscripts by Christian (U.S. army MS D-166), Engel, Below, and Speer ;  Saur—interviewed in 1965—stressed to me that Hitler took the news absolutely calmly.  Ribbentrop’s account of his proposals remained consistent through many interrogations by the Allies and in his unpublished manuscripts.

p. 446   Herbert Backe, the food minister, spent November 8, 1942—the day of the Allied invasion of North Africa—with Hitler in Munich, not leaving him until 3 A.M.  “The F¸hrer spoke on every possible subject, art, the theater, etc., and even artificial fertilizers (Herbert did not contradict, although his views differed),” wrote Frau Backe in her diary on the eleventh.  “Once the F¸hrer said, ‘Today it’s wonderful, just like when we were fighting for power—every bulletin brings a fresh situation.’  Just how tense he was inside only became evident when he jumped up immediately as the foreign ministry men came in, and he went over to meet them.”

p. 447   My account of the occupation of the rest of France derives from the diary of General Koller, the war diary of the naval staff, the handwritten record kept by Greiner of the OKW, and documents submitted by Himmler to Hitler (T175/124);  for a reliable narrative based additionally on French sources, see Eberhard Jackel, Frankreich in Hitlers Europa (Stuttgart, 1966), Chap. XIV.

p. 449   (footnote) Italian hoarding of oil was evidently a national trait.  According to the war diary of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, they unexpectedly stumbled on thirteen thousand tons of Italian oil near Tripoli in December 1941 (T314/16/0035-37).  See also the naval staff war diary, November 11, 24, and 28, 1942 ;  Hitler’s remarks to Antonescu on February 26, 1944 ;  and especially G–ring’s outburst at a conference with Speer on October 27, 1943 :  “They [the Italians] had bigger stocks of copper than we have !  But the most astounding thing is the fuel oil :  in two tunnels we found enough oil to keep their entire navy operational for a year !  The swine tucked it away, barrel after barrel, and then came whining to me for more :  ‘We would dearly love to fly, but we need the fuel !’  I gave them another thousand tons—and now we find they had sixty-five thousand tons tucked away” (MD 31/754).

p. 449   Weizs”cker quoted the public’s stoic foresight in his diary, November 16, 1942.

p. 449   For the onset of the Russian attack I used Greiner’s handwritten note of November T9, 1942 ;  the published version in OKW war diary, Vol. II, page 988, is an entirely postwar concoction.